I feel that I might have been a little hasty in my criticism of Duke Nukem Forever. That is far from an apology, and I’m in no way about to retract the majority of the statements that I made about it. It’s simply an admission. I always try to be objective and professional when I give my opinions, but the mood surrounding the game’s release felt so incendiary that I was compelled to rush. There are things I said that I perhaps shouldn’t have, and things I didn’t say which were worth mentioning. So, that’s what this post is for.
Full disclosure: When I wrote my last post about this game, I hadn’t even reached the end. That’s something that rarely ever happens, and when it does I clarify that I’m not in a position to judge the quality of the whole product. I didn’t do that in this case. On the one hand, that was pretty unprofessional. On the other, it is also what convinced me to return to Duke Nukem Forever and claw through everything the game had to offer.
As it turns out, I still think a lot of what I said was correct. Duke Nukem Forever is a bad game. But, and this is important, it’s not as bad as I first thought, or as bad as a lot of people are making out.
I think playing through two-thirds of the game not really knowing what to expect and then starting back from the beginning worked to my advantage in some ways. All the shocking, distasteful stuff hit me first, and I was able to concentrate on other aspects during my second time through. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still very distasteful – there’s a lot of offensive stuff in Duke Nukem Forever, and that isn’t going to change however many times I play. There are, however, some things to be enjoyed.
I still insist that the obvious pop culture quotes and “power armour is for pussies” stuff doesn’t work, but some of the subtler, self-referential humour hits with a more satisfying note. Every time the game remembers that this is apparently satire and that not everyone in the world should be totally on board with Duke’s egotistical bravado, it’s actually quite funny. The autograph scene is a good example of this. My favourite character was Corporal Dylan, who’s a superbly entertaining parody of the macho space marine trope, and has by far the funniest lines. His obvious Gears of War 2 reference was especially good, but his general over-enthusiasm, screaming, dudebro humour and constant swearing were all pretty amusing taken as a whole. He’s a far more effective parody than Duke is, anyway.
While the glaring errors in judgement are still a bit jarring, especially in regards to the humour, I think it may be worth remembering that Duke Nukem Forever isn’t the only game to miss the mark with its jokes. Sure, a lot of the gags fall flat, but that happens in a lot of games – it isn’t a problem specific to Duke. This doesn’t change the fact that the game isn’t all that funny for the most part, but it should play some role in how it is judged against the current industry landscape.
I think part of the reason that the review scores for Duke Nukem Forever have bothered me the more I’ve thought about them is that they are largely based on the humour alone, which while we have established certainly is offensive, is still subject to personal taste. The gameplay holding the whole thing together is uninspired, but in fairness it’s not “broken”, as I initially said it was, and at times does have something to offer.
In regards to the gameplay, most of the points I made in my previous post still stand. It does feel like a modern shooter trying to be a classic one, and the mechanics do contradict the tone. But, at least it fundamentally works, which is more than I can say for a lot of games.
The scenes as mini-Duke were pretty good, particularly the sequence in the kitchen which has him hopping across burgers and taking cover behind jars of mustard. Despite, as usual, first person platforming being horrendously imprecise, this scene is creative and entertaining. There’s something much more tolerable about Duke Nukem when he’s pint-sized. Perhaps it’s because this is a more accurate representation of the character emotionally, or maybe I just like that his high-pitched voice punctures the bravado like a pin through a balloon.
I don’t provide a numerical representation of my thoughts on a game, but if I did Duke Nukem Forever would be a comfortable five, which on a ten-point scale is exactly average. I feel that would be a fair, justifiable score. Would anyone care? No, of course they wouldn’t. But at least I feel better now, and that’s really all that matters.